There have been times while learning to garden in zone 10 when I’ve felt less like a gardener and more like a member of a landing party from the Starship Enterprise.
With winters that feel like summers, armies of iguanas feasting their way through yard after yard, warnings of Burmese pythons in the Everglades, and giant African-snails eating the stucco off of buildings, I sometimes wonder on what planet Florida is actually located and why Scotty isn’t beaming me up.
It’s the same thing with plants. They’re different and they’re big in this subtropical world — and each time I step outside, I might as well be boldly gardening where no one has gardened before.
I have a gardening friend who’s lived in the area for decades. He approaches each day as the chance to meet a new plant, and he’ll often carry a water bottle, some damp paper towels, a small pair of scissors, and some plastic bags each time he leaves his house to go to a nursery or box store. What others call shoplifting, he calls collecting.
While I haven’t reached that point because I tend to follow the law, I now make it a habit to look through people’s yard debris for any bromeliads. I figure it’s all part of Star Fleet’s orders to seek out new life forms.
Nevertheless, my number one rule when planning a landscape project still applies here. Pay attention to what’s planted in the landscaped areas around shopping centers and corporate centers.
My logic is that they’ve already paid a landscape architect to choose the plants that work best for the area. I take some photos, go to a nursery, identify the plants, and then decide if the plants are right for my garden.
Such was the case with a plant that seems to be growing everywhere in zone 10, from private homes to public parks to shopping center entrances. With stiff sword-like leaves, a clumping habit, a thick trunk wrapped in a paper-like bark, and a long flower stalk, it looks tropical, exotic, and majestic.
More importantly, it’s large enough for one or two to take up a large chunk of the understory in my front bed — more economical than purchasing a lot of smaller shrubs.
When I learned its name, though, I had to do a double take.
The plant is Crinum Lily, a name more suitable for a species harvested from the planet Crinum and a lily like none I’ve ever known before — most likely because it’s not a lily at all. Crinums are actually part of the Amaryllis family — and just as those plants reveal their flowers for a holiday show, the Crinum sends up a thick spike that splits open to reveal a cluster of thinly petalled blooms — dozens of them.
In South Florida landscapes, two varieties are most often planted. The first is Crinum asiaticum, which has long green leaves and sweetly scented white flowers. The other is Queen Emma (Crinum augustum), with dark green leaves brushed with deep purple and burgundy and white blooms. For my front bed, I went with the Queen.
Both varieties are huge, growing to about 5’ in height and width. They generally like full to partial sun, and will flower at various times throughout the year, although they prefer to bloom in warmer weather.
About the only maintenance the plant needs, other than watering and fertilizing, is a general cleaning up to remove browned leaves and spent flower stalks.
Crinums propagate in two ways. The first are pups, which sprout from the base of the plant. These can remain to form a clump of Crinums or removed to be planted elsewhere in the landscape.
At the end of flowering, smooth, tuber-like bulbils often appear at the end of the flower stalk. In the wild, these will weigh down the stalk until it reaches the ground, where it eventually germinates.
Or . . . the bulbils can be harvested and planted elsewhere in the garden.
Taking a cue from my gardening friend, that’s exactly what I did. Joe and I were visiting a local doctor’s office where masses of Crinum asiaticum were planted on islands in the parking lot. On the way to the building’s front door, I noticed some of the flower stalks held bulbils. I picked a few, tucked them in my pocket, and then planted them when I returned home. Two sprouted.
With two purchased Queen Emmas in the front and two sampled asiaticums in the back, I’d say that this particular planet has been quite friendly. Even the bands of marauding iguanas seem to be ignoring the Crinums.
And that’s a good enough reason for Scotty to leave me where I am.